Ofgem to aid in energy storage solutions for EV owners

16-09-2021 | By Sam Brown

Recently energy regulator Ofgem announced that it will look into systems that will enable EV owners to be paid for using their EV as a grid battery. What challenges do renewable energies face, what technologies would be needed to enable smart grids, and what will Ofgem do to help this?

What challenges do renewable energies face?

There is no shortage of the current climate crises in the media, and worldwide activism is seeing companies turn towards green energy sources.

Green energy technologies have been around long before fossil fuels. An excellent example of this would be windmills that harnessed wind energy to grind grains, watermills harnessing kinetic energy from rivers to grind grains, and kinetic energy from donkeys attached to machinery was used to wait for it grind grains.

Modern forms of renewable energy include solar, wind, hydro, and tidal, all of which can gather large amounts of energy. In fact, there have been many occasions where wind power has been the most significant contributor to energy in the UK.

However, most renewable energies suffer from one major drawback; availability. The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, and tides come and go. This inability to get energy at a constant rate means that the power generated by renewables rarely matches what is needed from the grid. This means that if extra energy is produced by renewables, this energy is simply wasted instead of being put to good use.

Therefore, researchers are now looking at various methods to store energy from renewables to be fed back into the grid when needed. For example, pumped hydro operates in the same way a dam does. Still, instead of blocking a river at a constant rate, it pumps water to a higher elevation during times of excess energy. It then releases the water when power is needed.

Batteries can also be used as an energy storage device; they can be charged during excess energy and discharged when power is needed. However, batteries can be large, expensive, and dangerous to handle, as seen in Australia’s recent Tesla battery fires. Trying to construct large battery storage systems for the grid is expensive and challenging, but an alternative solution exists, and it’s EV cars.

What technologies would a smart grid need?

EVs can be used as battery storage for the grid when they are plugged in; the grid can use the EV as energy storage when there is excess energy and then draw it back when the grid requires power. Such a system would help to prevent the need to manufacture large battery storage stations that would, in turn, reduce the environmental damage caused by lithium mining. To incentivise this, an EV owner would be paid for using their vehicle as a storage element, thus making a passive income on their EV.

But to achieve such a system requires several key pieces of technology. The first hurdle is that an EV needs to coordinate with the grid how much power is needed. Since the electrical grid is a careful balance between all power sources and consumers, all EVs must ensure that they only output a specific amount of power (too much power risks overloading the grid). A network is required that allows EVs to communicate with the national grid to negotiate power supplied to the grid.

The second hurdle is that EVs need to be paid for their use, and the amount of energy provided should be carefully recorded. Considering that batteries used in EVs have limited charge cycles, the grid may quickly wear down connected EVs, which must be compensated. Therefore, any EV grid system would have to provide proper levels of pay and carefully track usage.

The third hurdle is that any system created must be universal and non-proprietary. For a smart grid to be effective, all devices should communicate using the same standards with a unified grid architecture that is open-source and easily understood.

How does Ofgem come into this picture?

Recently, Ofgem announced that it is in the process of making plans to incentivise EV owners to use their vehicles as network batteries. After researching energy storage solutions, Ofgem realised that using dedicated power storage elements imposes high costs that would increase the price of energy for customers while making it harder to move away from fossil fuels.

While renting EV energy storage is technically more expensive in the long run, it would remove the need for the electrical grid to invest in large-scale sites for energy storage. Thereby reducing the cost to switch to more environmentally friendly energy sources. Furthermore, the ability for car owners to make money from their vehicles would help increase sales of electric cars and thus reduce their price.

Another significant advantage of renting EV energy storage is that it would also incentivise more charging stations around the UK. This, in turn, has the positive effect of increasing the number of EVs on the road, reducing the climate impact from vehicles and energy production.

Overall, using EVs as energy storage for renewable energies is probably one of the most sensible ideas as batteries are expensive to produce, difficult to manage on a scale, and damaging to the environment. Instead of centralising battery storage, renting a few kWh of space from each vehicle reduces the immediate cost of switching over to renewable energies while also simplifying infrastructure.

By Sam Brown